The idea that every person deserves his or her “day in court” is a fundamental principle in the United States and many countries worldwide. Yet more than nine years after 9/11, the United States remains paralyzed not just about how to give the thousands of detainees in U.S. custody around the world their day in court but about whether to give them that day in court.
Multiple judicial forums have been created to try nonstate actors who have perpetrated war crimes from Rwanda to Sierra Leone to Cambodia to the former Yugoslavia — to give them their day in court. That makes the failure to answer this question for post-9/11 detainees particularly perplexing and deeply troubling.
Two successive administrations have been incapable of answering what should be the most basic questions: if, how and where to try terrorists. In the meantime, post-9/11 detainees languish in indefinite detention. The result is a fundamental and overwhelming violation of the rights of individuals who are no more than suspects, in either past or (more problematic) future acts.
The Obama administration now intends to issue an executive order establishing indefinite detention without trial for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. This decision will formalize this violation of basic rights. Denying individual accountability will now be official U.S. policy and law.